A Promising (and Eye-Opening) Start to the Estate Sale Season in CT

Notwithstanding the unseasonably cold temperatures here in New England (at this writing in late March, highs expected in the 30sF), there are signs of spring. For one, there’s been a sudden spike in the number of listings for estate sales, which warms the hearts of vintage lovers and flea market scavengers like me. It’s the time of year when people start clearing out their attics and closets in preparation for a move or to wrestle control over their growing piles of stuff. There are always plenty of other people who feel they don’t have enough stuff and will swoop in to take it off their hands. Going to estate and yard sales make you appreciate the wisdom of  the old saying, ‘one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ I see this dynamic playing out all the time and heartily approve of it as a form of recycling.

Last weekend I mapped out several sales I wanted to check out on Friday and Saturday and they ran the gamut in terms of appeal. I live in Connecticut in a region dotted with quaint villages and incredibly scenic landscapes. Town welcome signs proudly proclaim their establishment in the 1600s and, after driving through a string of these, I start to think of those founded later, say the 1800s, as modern upstarts. On a typical drive, I pass by impossibly idyllic farmsteads bordered by stacked stone walls and white picket fences, with cows grazing happily in the pastures. As I follow the turns to the next sale dictated by Google Maps, I’m expected to drive up to a sprawling estate with lots of treasures inside.

However, there’s another side to country living and it isn’t as pretty. I looked around confusedly when the familiar Google Maps voice said, “You’ve arrived,” then noticed a small single-lane street with a few cars positioned along the edge. I parked a short distance away and walked toward a “house” where a few people were coming and going. It was really more of a shack with a few steps leading up to a one-room affair. Inside, stuff was piled and thrown everywhere and some people were picking through the dirt and grime in hope of finding something precious or valuable. One older woman lifted a colored glass bottle in the air, effusing, “My mother used to have all sorts of these but she threw them out” (for good reason I expect).  I’m all for scavenging but I draw the line at the risk of contracting airborne diseases or coming upon dead rodents in my search. It was the sort of place that should be wrapped in warning tape and condemned by the health department. Yet, the woman running the sale noted happily that she would be there all week bringing in more stuff from some unknown nearby stash. My husband doesn’t usually come with me to these sales but he happened to this time and I found him standing outside with his arms folded and a stern look on his face that said, “what are we doing here?” Needless to say, we left empty handed.

Happily, very few sales turn out that way. Most are located in longtime family homes that are being cleared out by relatives or estate sale pros. That’s not to say they are lavish estates. In fact, they are often modest looking bungalows or split levels but they’re stuffed with interesting treasures that the owners have accumulated over time. One sale was at a midcentury-style split level, the home of a recently deceased elderly couple who were enthusiastic collectors of southwest-style and Native American art. Another was at a lovely two-story colonial filled with nostalgic pieces from the early to mid 1900s. The owners were involved in the dairy industry and had these wonderful old wooden milk crates (which I didn’t buy because of the price, but will probably regret). I also passed on an antique sewing machine and a beautiful ceramic stove/oven with warming cabinets (too big). But I found some great old books, jewelry, and purses.

Below are some my finds from these particular outings (photos link to listings in my Etsy shop). All in all, a satisfying (and edifying) first couple of weeks of estate sale hunting!

luxart library classics
I love these miniature classics from the 1920s by Little Luxart Library. They’re part of a bigger set but I like the titles I found, including: Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson; Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream; The Ancient Mariner by Coleridge; Speeches and Letters by George Washington; and Barrack-Room Ballads by Rudyard Kipling.

andersen studio ceramics
A set of ceramic stoneware vases by Andersen Design Studio, founded by the late Weston and Brenda Andersen in 1952, in Boothbay, Maine.
Continuing my fascination with vintage cameras, I picked up some Kodak Brownies. The Baby Brownie, which already sold (pictured above), was so cute. And I’m amazed at the condition of this No. 2 box camera from the 1910s.
Antique gold-filled wire rim spectacles made by American Optical in the 1930s.
A lovely Florentine leather compact from the 1950s, in pristine condition!
A 1960s hand-tooled leather cigarette case with the Aztec calendar etched on the back.

 

 

 

Two Very Different Estate Sales Yield Some Exciting Vintage Finds

estate sale

One of the best things about going to estate sales is never knowing what you might find. Each time I plug an address into Google maps and follow the twists and turns a sale site, I never know quite where I will end up. Of course, I’m familiar with the general vicinity but not what the neighborhood and house itself will look like, and quite often the outside of the house belies what’s inside. I’ve found gorgeous purses and collectibles inside modest bungalows while leaving fancier places empty handed.

Recently, I found some interesting things at two very different sales. The first was inside a tony subdivision in a nearby town, not a typical site for an estate sale and I was skeptical of finding anything suitable for a vintage shop. I almost got back in my car when I found out that the organizers were only letting five people into the house at a time and making everyone else wait outside in the sub-30F degree weather. While we waited, a neighbor started yelling at us from across the street that someone had parked in front of her trash can and had better move…the morning wasn’t starting out so well.

However, I’m glad I stayed because I ended up finding some nice inventory for my shop. It turned out that the owner collected tea sets and cups, which sell fairly well on Etsy. The upstairs level was a bust but the lower level was brimming with collectibles. I browsed though a whole table of porcelain demitasses and teacups, all beautifully preserved with their matching saucers. On another table, I found some pretty ceramic bowls hand painted in Italy. Take a look:

Great find: Haviland Limoges demitasse and saucer with a pink rose garland design.
Found three of these sunny sunflower bowls, hand painted in Italy, and already sold one.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The next week I found myself at a completely different type of home in a blue collar neighborhood on a street lined with tiny, well kept bungalows. The weather had warmed up and so had the reception: the woman holding the sale had the side door open and welcomed me in before her advertised start time. Again, I was a bit skeptical about finding much in such a small place but it turned out to be a very good day. The sale hadn’t been widely advertised so only a few people showed up, making it easy to do some low-pressure browsing.

The sale encompassed only a few rooms on the main floor but those were chock full of vintage wares accumulated over several decades. Kitchen counters were lined with all manner of dishes and gadgets and the entire dining table was covered with fine china, including–you guessed it–more tea sets! The organizer was willing to consider a discounted price if I bought several things so I decided to take an entire set that included a coffee pot, sugar bowl, and five demitasse and saucer combinations. I also picked up a midcentury serving platter, an Incolay stone trinket box, and some hand carved plates from Poland. Here are a few pictures:

This 1930s lustreware coffee/tea set with a beautiful Fragonard design was in perfect condition.
The owner had two of these stunning hand-carved plates hanging on the wall. I later discovered that they were made by artists in the Tatra Mountain region of Poland.
An Incolay carved stone trinket box.

 

This platter is from the Lu-Ray Pastels line produced in the 1940s. Surf Green was one of the original four colors.

Find of the Week

And finally, the find of the day was this whimsical brutalist art piano man. Turn the music staff wheel in the back and it plays the theme to “The Sting” — you can’t get much more nostalgic than that! I listed it that night and it sold a couple of hours later.

A brutalist art piano man that plays the theme from “The Sting” while raising his beer stein in the air.

 

 

 

 

 

A Few Lessons from My First Year Running an Etsy Shop

It’s been a little over a year since I opened Premium Transitions, my vintage shop on Etsy, and I remember my first sale very clearly. I had just listed a set of vintage Corning Ware”Grab-it” bowls from the 1970s and was thrilled when they sold the next day. It was my first inkling of how desirable these bowls are among collectors of vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware. As it turns out, it’s actually pretty rare to find undamaged grab-its at a thrift shop, especially with the  fitted glass lids.  I bought that first set on a whim but have since learned to be constantly on the lookout because they typically sell within days of being listed, with or without lids. It was my first vintage find and I was hooked!

vintage corning ware
Corning Ware Grab-It Bowls: My First Sale turned out to be a best seller.

At first, I thought vintage Pyrex and Corning Ware would be the main focus of my shop but I’ve since branched out into midcentury home decor and fashion accessories as well. Over the past year, I’ve learned a lot about how to list and promote items in my shop and how to pack and ship delicate items domestically and internationally. I’ve also learned more about which vintage items are most sought after by Etsy buyers. Some of the things I bought in my first month are still sitting on the shelf while others, like the grab-it bowls, have become best sellers (when I can find them).

My learning curve is by no means over. However, the one-year mark seemed like a good time to pause and take stock of how far I’ve come. Starting from nothing, I now have a sizable shop with hundreds of listings and about 250 completed sales. The following tips and “lessons learned” are gleaned from my own trials and errors since over the past year. I hope they’re helpful to anyone whose thinking of starting a shop either on Etsy or another online marketplace.

  1. Develop a system. Before starting a shop, I didn’t give much thought to the hours I would invest in simply posting items for sale. However, listing can be a fairly time-intensive process, especially with a vintage shop. While it sometimes happens that I can directly copy or renew a sold listing when I list an identical product (such as the grab-it bowls), that’s rare because almost every vintage item is unique. However, once you establish a shop identity and a focus for the types of products you will offer, you can often copy a similar listing (such as a Pyrex casserole dish in a different pattern or size) and use most of the same tags and descriptors. You will still have to replace photos and customize, but it’s easier than starting from scratch.

    photography studio
    You don’t need a professional studio to start creating appealing photos.
  2. Create a Mini Photo Studio. Photos are very important to marketing your products but can also be expensive and time-consuming to create. My first photos were pretty mediocre and could still be improved, but I’ve learned a few tricks to make my products stand out without paying a professional photographer or renting studio space. First, I try to take all my photos against similar backgrounds. My backyard, where I have a mini rock garden with a variety of oddly shaped marble-like slabs, is my current go-to spot. It’s turned out to be a nice staging area for things like purses, jewelry, and collectibles. Although natural light produces the best results, the weather isn’t always conducive to outdoor shots. For those days, I created a makeshift light box in my basement using a cardboard box, tissue paper, and a spotlight (check out this simple tutorial on YouTube). It works well for smaller items. Someday soon I will invest time in making a bigger one.
  3. Work in Batches. I’ve found that taking multiple photos at once is easier than getting out my camera every time I have something to list (tip: an iPad camera works fine to start). I typically take photos of 5-10 things, then edit them in one batch. That way, they’re ready on my computer whenever I find a few minutes to create a new listing.

    how to start etsy shop
    Be careful of switching labels when you’re packing multiple items for shipping.
  4. Develop a packing and shipping process. The importance of this step will become clear the first time you inadvertently switch mailing labels and send customers the wrong order (as I unfortunately managed to do early on–hopefully you will avoid this!) Problems arise when you’re packing up and printing out shipping labels for multiple orders. It’s fairly easy to put the wrong label on a package if you’re not careful, so I now take a couple of precautions. First, after packing an order, I lightly write the name of the item and first name of the customer on the box or envelope. Next, I put the packing slips into the corresponding packages and tape them up. At this point, I cannot see the contents of the box or the packing slip, so my previous labeling is a big help in matching the correct label to the correct package.
  5. Pay attention to what sells. Some of the things I bought in my first few months in business are still sitting on the shelf. I’ve learned that not everything old or antique-y is desirable or conducive to easy shipping. For example, vintage kitchenware is popular but only for certain patterns or brands, such as Pyrex/Corning Ware and
    vintage teapot
    Novelty kitchen items like this Sadler teapot sell well but sets of vintage china often linger on the shelf.

    Fiestaware. Dinnerware is generally difficult to sell but ceramic or novelty mugs are quite popular. Weight is another consideration as many customers are deterred by the expense of shipping, which can be as much as or more than the item itself in some cases.

  6. Be patient. There’s no way to know everything from Day 1. Paying attention to what sells, listening to customers’ feedback, and learning about the products you sell takes time. I now feel more confident looking for new inventory at estate sales because I have a better feel for what customers want and how to set prices. I’ve noticed myself passing over things that I would have snapped up six or eight months ago. Similarly, I’m getting better at looking beyond labels and trusting my own judgement about what items will appeal to shoppers.

    vintage kitchen
    Quirky best sellers: This set of owl measuring cups sold months ago but still gets lots of customer views.

As I write this post, I realize that I’m only scratching the surface of what it’s like to own and grow an online shop. I hope you’ll stay tuned for more first-year insights and lessons learned as I continue on my entrepreneurial journey. I welcome your suggestions and comments!

Fun Ideas for Creating Vintage Shelf Displays

I love seeing how people use antiques to create cool vintage displays in their homes. Possessions that have outlived their original purpose or been replaced by modern materials and sleeker designs–such as wooden printer trays or midcentury suitcases–are being repurposed as vintage decor to wonderful effect. Nostalgic items like vintage cameras and old kitchen utensils are being called back into service as art. I love the idea of upcycling these treasures, which might otherwise be relegated to a dusty storage space or thrown away.

The wooden printer tray is something that I’ve used in my own home. We found one at my mother-in-law’s house years ago and she gave it to my youngest son–a toddler at the time–to use in his room. Over the years, he’s filled up the odd-shaped compartments with tiny art objects found during family trips or at flea markets. Now 17, he still displays it on his wall and it’s like a snapshot of experiences and interests that he’s had over the years. Maybe someday he’ll pass it along to his own children.

vintage decor
A few of the tiny collectibles in my son’s printer’s tray display.

 

vintage shelf display
Another vintage display created with an old printer’s tray, featured on the blog Building 25.

Other Display Ideas

Vintage cameras have become very collectible in recent years. Some are used as working cameras by photography enthusiasts while others are purchased solely for display. A variety of attractive mid-century models can be had for between $25-$50 on Etsy, although they can range up to several hundred dollars depending on the style, manufacturer, and condition. Some come with weathered leather cases which really adds to their vintage appeal.

Vintage cameras can be integrated into an eclectic display or arranged as a collection of various makers and styles.

vintage cameras
Vintage Kodak and Agfa cameras listed recently in my Etsy shop.

 

Vintage camera display
A display of vintage cameras, found on Pinterest.
Vintage camera display
Great idea for organizing a vintage camera collection. Found on PetaPixel.

Old suitcases are also highly desirable as decor these days. Stack them or turn them into makeshift side tables or be really creative and use them as shelves, as one Etsy shop owner demonstrates below. Other ideas for cool vintage shelf displays include:

  • Classic hardcover books. You can pick these up cheaply at your local library’s used book sale (and support your library and the same time).
  • Antique mirrors and picture frames.
  • Old kitchen utensils, such as cutting boards, standalone graters, wooden spoons, pitchers, and food scales.
  • Vintage pottery pieces
  • Antique or colored glassware
  • Vintage Jewelry
  • Old black and white photos

Below are some fun ideas that I found around the web. Hope they provide some inspiration for your own vintage decorating!

vintage suitcases
Vintage suitcases made into shelves. Sold by Vintage Baubles n Bits on Etsy.
Antique dresser mirrors are perfect for displaying vintage jewelry collections.
Some vintage watches from my Etsy shop.
vintage shelf display
A vintage shelf display featuring antique scales, cutting boards and other kitchen tools. Found on Remodelalcoholic.
A pretty jewelry display created with vintage glass bottles, from the blog Something Created Everyday.

How My Vintage Obsession Turned into a Second Career

Ever since I can remember I’ve loved hunting for vintage treasures. (Of course, it’s only recently that I’ve used the term “vintage” — we just called it “used” when I was growing up). As a teenager, I used to go with my friends to a local second-hand warehouse called “Frenchy’s” in search of affordable yet fashionable … Read more